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What’s in a name? How to describe what we do

What do you do for a living?

How good are you at describing what you do? Are you a financial adviser? financial planner? financial life coach? lifestyle financial planner? wealth manager? Maybe an IFA?

Can clients tell the difference? Can we?

I appreciate that’s a lot of questions for this time in the morning, but it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

I have had the good fortune to meet a whole host of practitioners from across the country recently, both via Nextgen Planners and my involvement with the Personal Finance society, and I’ve noticed the following two trends, that at first seem to be at odds with each other:

1) We have too many words to describe the same work

Maybe you identify as one of the titles above. Maybe you think it uniquely describes your practice. With that said, I would argue a handful of the other titles would, currently, work just as well.

One of the challenges here is the “marks of success” available to the profession. If you’ve put in the hard work to get Chartered with the PFS, you’re going to want to use your “Chartered Financial Planner” status, even if you don’t identify as providing financial planning.

Likewise, if you have put the hard work in with CISI to achieve Chartered status, your “Chartered Wealth Manager” badge should be worn with honour, even if you’d never otherwise describe yourself as a “wealth manager”.

We have Certified Financial Planners™, Chartered Financial Planners, Chartered Wealth Managers,

2) We have too few words to describe different work

I can think of three different financial planners I know, who all describe their work as financial planning. There are similarities in what they do, but also significant differences.

  1. Planner 1 is a tax specialist. There is nothing about the UK tax system he doesn’t know, and he provides supercharged tax advice within the context of lifetime financial planning for high-earning professionals.

  1. Planner 2 deals exclusively with the families that own businesses with turnover in excess of £5 million pounds and are planning exits or succession. She knows the BPR rules inside out and her Trust work is second-to-none.

  1. Planner 3 understands the financial planning needs of clients dealing with matrimonial breakdown. She has a box of tissues at the ready for every meeting, and provides laser-focused assistance to solicitors and couples in coming to fair and equitable financial resolutions.

It strikes me as odd that we use the same job title to describe all three.

Let’s look at solicitors as a good counter-example – it seems obvious that if you need legal advice on your marriage, you would approach a matrimonial lawyer. If you need to deal with a deceased estate, you approach a trusts and probate lawyer. Property issues? Property lawyer.

Let’s find better words to describe what we do

I firmly believe that financial planning is a profession. It has the hallmarks and the potential to sit alongside the other great professions of law, accountancy, and so on. If you haven’t yet read “Financial Planning 3.0” by Richard Wagner, please consider it – it puts this concept into words in a better way than I would ever be capable of.

However, I think one of the barriers to the rest of the world agreeing with us about our professional status is the words we use to describe what we do. Getting better at this feels like an easy win.

There have been initiatives (though not widely known about) that can help us with this. The PFS have “specialist registers”. You can confirm with them that you are a “retirement planning specialist” or a “later life advice specialist”.

This is a step in the right direction! It has a clear set of requirements (including additional Continued Professional Development) and can be communicated with clients in a very specific way. The problem? They appear to have been around for some time, and I only stumbled across them by accident last week – what chance do we have of making use of these if practitioners don’t know about them, let alone clients?

Whilst I think we can all get better at describing what we do, we need to consider lobbying the professional bodies for some joined-up thinking on this issue. Proper, profession-wide accreditation for areas of specialism that are clearly communicated to the public and to planners may sound like a pipe-dream, but with some time and effort put in by planners and professional bodies, it could be closer than we think.

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